Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frances Creighton & Everett Appelgate

Borgia

Painting of Lucretia Borgia
Painting of Lucretia Borgia

By January of 1936, the New York City tabloids were calling Frances Creighton "Borgia," after Lucretia Borgia, the Italian prima donna of the notorious Borgia family of 16th century Florence. "Mrs. Creighton's hard-pressed attorney has battled bravely throughout the trial to keep the woman's true Borgia background from the ears of her twelve judges!" said the New York Daily News. The papers capitalized on the more lurid aspects of the case, especially the sexual union between Everett and Ruth, which most observers saw as child abuse committed by a predatory sex fiend.

Nassau County Courthouse
Nassau County Courthouse

The murder trial began at the Nassau County Courthouse on January 19, 1936. Public fascination was fed by salacious details of sexual activities with Ruth, the teenage nymph who couldn't get enough of the Legionnaire Lothario. On the 4th day of the trial, Frances Creighton was called to the stand. It was a risky move by defense attorney Elvin Edwards. Though she had already confessed several times to the police in the D.A.'s office back in September, Edwards may have thought that she could at least shift part of the blame onto Appelgate who was taking a pounding in the press. The News called him "the plumpish, bullet-headed legionnaire." Frances' experiences in New Jersey told her that juries were reluctant to convict if they didn't have absolute proof. Even if they knew the victim died from arsenic poisoning, it still wasn't enough. They had to know exactly who had given the poison to the victim.

District Attorney Littleton questioned Frances about her previous statements to police in which she implicated herself and Everett in the death of Ada.

"When you took the milk to Mrs. Appelgate and waited for her to drink it," he said, as he stood within inches of the witness, "you knew then there was arsenic in it, did you not?"

"Yes, I did," Frances replied softly, "Appelgate told me."

"Knowing this, you took it to her to drink?"

"Yes," she said. Frances began to sob on the stand. The jury looked over at her as if to see if the tears were real.

"You stood by and watched this woman, who was your best friend, die?" said Littleton.

"Yes," she sobbed. But the prosecutor would not let up. "District Attorney Littleton hammered at her like an avenging angel!" said the Daily News.

"When the empty glass came into the kitchen you knew she had drunk poison?"

"Yes," Frances admitted.

"You had heard a great deal about arsenic and its symptoms had you not?"

"Yes."

It was extremely damaging testimony and a stunning admission in front of the jury. "When Mrs. Creighton made her astonishing blunder, in quiet, lady-like tones, she didn't forget to drag Appelgate into the confession with her," said the News. But it was worse than that. Months before the trial, Frances had contacted a crime magazine about selling the story of the New Jersey deaths for a large sum of money. That letter was read in the courtroom and opened the door for questions about multiple murders by arsenic in the Creighton family in 1923.

"Through a brilliant, strategic triumph staged by Charles Weeks, lawyer for Appelgate," the story read in the next day's papers, "the jury also learned of the plump housewife's astounding poison past."

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